|BORN TO PERFORM...Dani started out on stage as a musician before taking up comoedy
VAUGHAN-based comedian Jack Dani is the first to admit he wouldn’t be classified as “normal” in comparison to most people. While Dani is a husband, a father and a shift worker at Pearson Airport, he also can take an Elton John classic and turn it into a risqué tune so far removed from the original meaning that it leaves people in hysterics.
It takes being a little different to be able to stand in front of a group of strangers and connect with them instantly. He seems to be able to effortlessly launch into personal stories, whether slightly embellished or completely truthful, and gives his audience a reason to laugh and take a break from whatever lives it is that they lead.
Strangely enough, while Dani took up stand-up comedy relatively late, it was something he dreamed he would be doing even when he was little. In fact, when he was just seven, he wrote in his journal on the first day of school, “When I grow up, I want to be a comedian.”
Dani always was comfortable as a performer, but it was music rather than comedy that saw him take the stage early on. He was a drummer for Graffiti Knoxx, an “on the cusp” glam-rock band (think Poison and Motley Crue) in the ’80s, after getting into music at the age of 12.
Music would remain his primary form of on-stage expression for the better part of 15 years, but his comedic streak was there the entire time.
“I was always the guy that was causing a mess,” says Dani of his time with the band. “Pulling pranks on the band, my friends, other bands… people were always telling me then that I should get into comedy.”
That idea stewed for a bit before Dani made his commitment to comedy, and even then it was almost like pulling teeth before he told his first joke in front of an audience. “It took two years from the moment I said that I was going to try it (comedy) to actually getting on stage.”
He finally caved to his calling at the request of one of his friends who just happened to be hosting a show one evening. The first time he made his way on stage, with no music and band mates to share it, he didn’t exactly make the impression he hoped. Dani was given five minutes for his comedy debut but barely made it halfway before succumbing to a case of opening night jitters.
“I had five minutes, I did twoand- a half,” he recalls. “I had five minutes prepared... (but) I wasn’t getting laughs and I tensed up. I completely forgot the last half.”
It ended mercifully with Dani basically muttering something along the lines of, “Okay, I’m going to get off the stage now” to a nervous applause from the crowd. Not that they even knew that he hadn’t completed his set. As he explains, “They didn’t notice, they didn’t even care really. They just clapped.”
Dani thought that was the end of that… he told himself that he had tried it, it didn’t work and it was time to move on.
However, he still got calls from his friend asking when he was going back on. It took another four months for him to build the necessary courage to try it again. Armed with some new material and a few tweaks to some stuff he already had in his routine, he went back on stage and this time got the laughs he envisioned, and has been grinding it out ever since.
A good thing too, because funny things happen to those who continue to grind and persevere. His brand of humour started winning him a fan base, and he finally had his first breakthrough when he won a contest to open a gig for headliner Russell Peters.
“A lot of my stuff right now comes from sitting around with my parents,” he explains of his Italian-immigrant mother and father.
“They have thick accents and there’s always something they say that almost changes the entire story around – just by how they say certain words,” says Dani.
Take the story of how his father spoke about how his neighbour was going through a difficult time. Dani switches to a dead-on thick Italian accent as he imitates his dad: “You know that guy from downa the street, he needs a bow and arrow because he pick uppa the cans.” What his dad was really telling him, laughs Dani, was that the neighbour had cancer and needed a bone marrow transplant.
“I’m always observing everything,” he continues after his quick tangent. “I hear the funny in everything. I hear the funny first, and that’s what registers.”
As for the things that register as funny between Dani and his audiences, there’s other ways in which his dad mangles English pronunciation (for example, turning a story about black ice into an accidental racial slur) or his kids’ reaction to punishment (they put themselves in timeout to get away from him).
Given the wealth of material, it’s abundantly clear that Dani’s day-to-day life is filled with more than enough laughter to share with others. He can also be found on YouTube making prank phone calls to banks, doing impressions of celebrities in traffic (his Ray Romano impression is must-see), and even in a few self-produced music videos. Regardless of how you see him perform, the guy is always bringing the funny.
Dani talks about his defining career moment thus far which came a little while back with an online competition through Sirius Satellite Radio. The grand prize was $2,500 cash plus a coveted opening slot for Russell Peters at Caesar’s Casino in Windsor.
“I saw the Sirius contest and it seemed simple. Upload your funniest five-minute stand-up video and Russell (Peters) is going to pick the funniest one.”
Peters chose Dani’s submission, one of 350 in the competition, and he suddenly found himself on a plane to Windsor to perform in front of an audience much larger than he was used to. Around 5,000 people were in attendance that night.
He recalls going to the theatre before the show. “So we meet at the casino, go down for sound check, and I’m staring at the empty theatre, looking at the empty seats and thinking, ‘Okay, this is gonna be full.’” He envisioned success in that moment and he delivered his best 10 minutes to roaring applause.
Strange as it might seem, the people who entertain others often have to endure some incredible personal highs and lows to make it happen. Most start by working new material at open mic nights for no money and sometimes have to travel hours away from their homes. Sometimes, there’s the silence after telling a new joke, or worse, silence after telling a joke that worked just the week before at a different location.
The Jack Dani story isn’t a full-blown success story just yet. Right now, his tale is still one of persistence, of perseverance. He still has moments where he drives home from a show and just wants to give it all up.
“Setbacks happen, a lot. There are a lot of nights I drive home and I say ‘That’s enough’.”
Most importantly, despite all of the self-diagnosed setbacks, Dani hasn’t quit making people laugh. He’s where his idols, guys like Jerry Lewis and Jim Carrey, once were. And at this point, that’s okay with him. With his biggest supporters, his wife and two children, backing him no matter what, he’ll keep getting in his car to go to Oshawa, Windsor or Toronto to perform his act. Whether it’s his winning the Sirius Radio competition, opening for Canadian comic Gerry Dee in Mississauga or Richmond Hill, or even selling out Toronto’s Berkeley Theatre with his friend Anthony Ciardulli, Dani has had his moments that make each decision to remain on course worthwhile.
Dani is still, in a lot of ways, the sevenyear- old dreamer; still hoping to one day make people laugh by playing characters on stage and on the big screen. He is also a very funny man. He’s parlayed looking a little like Ben Stiller (he starts off some of his shows reminding audiences they aren’t at the auditions for Zoolander 2) and his tales of growing up Italian and being a dad, into jokes that resonate with just about any audience. Once he gets into the ears of more and more people, there’s no telling just what kind of success will come his way.
Until then he’ll keep doing what he’s doing. Not because he feels like has to, but because that’s what he was born to do. And, with the rewards he receives here and there, Dani pretty much sums up his entire story in one sentence when explaining his own happiness by saying, “I gotta be doing something right.”
Something that everyone, the normal people and those like Jack Dani who are slightly “off”, would agree with after seeing him perform live.